Chains, loops, pillars and bridges – building resilience into agricultural systems.

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

UN Photo Logan Abassi

Credit: UN/Logan Abassi

As meteorologists report that the El Niño Southern Oscillation is ending and a La Niña may be developing, spare a thought for smallholder farmers. Erratic rainfall, short growing seasons, prolonged droughts and flooding mean that crop yields suffer, and so do the livelihoods of those who rely on farming as their main source of income. And because agriculture does not only provide food, but also provides important environmental services, employment, and economic opportunities for local communities, it is not just the farmers and their families who feel the effects of the unpredictable weather that is becoming increasingly common all around the world. With increasingly global food systems, we will all suffer the consequences.

Despite the volatile weather, the food must grow on. Globally the growing population demands more, and more varied, food, to be grown with ever scarcer resources. However, current agricultural techniques have a voracious appetite for resources, consuming about 70% of all freshwater and using ever more land. But there are other viable ways of farming that are less resource intensive. In the recent submission to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 44), A4I advocated for the practices of Sustainable Intensification (SI) for agriculture. SI integrates innovations in ecology, genetics and socio-economics to help build environmentally sustainable, productive and resilient ways to produce more food with less, ensuring that the natural resources on which agriculture depends are maintained and even improved for future generations – also take a look at the A4I SI database where there are explanations and more than 80 case studies to highlight some of the best practices of SI. [Read more…]

The World Economic Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals

r2Hb2gvXThe Sustainable Development Goals, described as a social contract to transform the world by 2030, were the focus of a panel event at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, which aimed to introduce the advocacy work being done around the SDGs as well as discuss what needs to be done to ensure the SDG agenda motivates action.

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon’s opening remarks introduced the goals as an ambitious blueprint to put the world on a more sustainable path, and as both a vision and a promise by world leaders. In order to deliver on the SDGs, and as quickly as possible, he affirmed that we need partnership and advocacy, introducing the SDG Advocacy Group (see below for a list of all members). Co-chair of the group, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana, was next to speak, further explaining the SDGs as a social contract to fix what is broken and to ensure all people have access to clean drinking water, sanitation, food, shelter, healthcare and education. In order for the world to see progress and peace we need to address the fact that many people do not have access to these goods and services as basic human rights, and we need to fix this fast. As global crises such as child hunger and malnutrition, the creation of refugees through conflict and the rise of terrorism show we do not have the luxury of time. President Mahama made clear that the SDGs cannot be a placebo that peddles false hope, we need to keep meeting, keep generating ideas and maintain momentum. “Our ability to effect change islimited only by our imagination.”

The second co-chair, Mrs. Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, then spoke about the role of the SDGs as a call to action and a roadmap to the future we want. We cannot continue as normal without expecting social, economic and environmental bankruptcy. She also laid out the lessons we need to learn from the Millennium Development Goals:

  • Progress is faster with effective partnerships (and sustainable investment models can scale up financing);
  • The 17 goals are a coherent plan, not a menu and we need to get away from a silo mentality and start seeing the synergies between the goals.
  • Establishing the goals is not enough, we need governments to show political will and resolve in dealing with difficult issues such as eradicating tax havens, halting illicit financial flows and combating corruption. We also need to monitor data to measure how effective new policies are at achieving the SDGs.
  • Finally, it has proved difficult to make progress in areas of crisis and conflict so the international community must work together to improve situations in these locations immediately.

[Read more…]

The Global Competitiveness Index and other ways to measure progress

By Katy Wilson

The Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), developed by the World Economic Forum, measures and ranks economies in terms of their competitiveness, defined as “the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country”. The details of this ranking and descriptions of the competitiveness landscape of individual economies are detailed in The Global Competitiveness Report, an annual publication designed to provide a “platform for dialogue between government, business and civil society about the actions required to improve economic prosperity”. This year the report covers 144 countries, which together represent 98.3% of world GDP. The GCI, in calculating competitiveness, combines 114 indicators under 12 pillars (shown in Figure 1 below). For more details on the methodology for compiling the GCI go here.

fig1.127212cfa1ab95162f74b8a4d3ab7002

In the 2014-2015 report, the 35th edition, innovation and skills are highlighted as being particularly important in influencing competitiveness, key attributes needed in the aftermath of global economic crisis. Alongside a recovering and unsettled economy, conflict and growing wealth inequality pose significant barriers to sustainable and inclusive growth, themes the report prioritizes. Political will and cooperation are of utmost importance in seeking a more resilient and fair global economy.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a region performing the worst in terms of global competitiveness. The top ten most competitive economies in SSA are:

sub-saharan-african-top-10

Of these only the top three occur in the first half of the league table and African countries fill 15 of the lowest 20 spots. Areas in need of improvement include health, education and infrastructure. A significant threat highlighted is the growing youth population – “by 2035, more people will be reaching working age in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world put together”.

The GCI has come under criticism for being opaque in its definition of competitiveness. On the one hand conflating it with productivity and prosperity while on the other having a high competitiveness score does not necessarily mean the country and its citizens are more prosperous than others. Instead the indicators are seen as being representative of WEF’s neoliberal politics. The WEF did, however, recently release The Inclusive Growth and Development Report, which engages with discussions to improve or develop new models of economic growth and development to expand social participation and benefit sharing. The report, which covers 112 economies, seeks to improve our understanding of how countries can use a diverse spectrum of policy incentives and institutional mechanisms to make economic growth more socially inclusive without dampening incentives to work, save and invest. [Read more…]

Rethinking Global Food Security

weforum-logo.db90160d8175c5a08cdf6c621e387d18At the World Economic Forum, held in Davos in January 2014, experts on food security, Ellen Kullman, Chair of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of DuPont; Michel M. Liès, Group Chief Executive Officer, Swiss Re; Shenggen Fan, Director-General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj (Farmers’ Forum India) and Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria came together to discuss how we can produce enough healthy food for everyone.

Moderator, Rajiv J. Shah, Administrator, US Agency for International Development (USAID), began the discussion by stating that the global population is at 7 billion, 850 million of which don’t get enough to eat. By 2050 the population will rise to over 9 billion and we need to find ways of producing sufficient food for this enlarged population whilst also coping with environmental changes. Every economy that has developed and reduced poverty significantly has transformed their agricultural sectors. Each speaker began by introducing actions we needs to take to ensure agricultural transformation addresses global food insecurity.

Akinwumi Adesina began by reflecting on the fear of the 1960s, that population growth would outstrip our ability to feed to the world. What we failed to understand then was the power of science and technology in meeting global challenges. So we need to invest in research and development as a matter of priority.

65% of the world’s arable land is in Africa. A major hurdle for Africa in reaching its potential to become the breadbasket of the world is the way agriculture is viewed in the continent. We need to view agriculture not as a development activity but as a business. We need to improve the marketing systems so that they provide safe, healthy and affordable food. We also need to build more resilient agricultural systems that can cope with shocks such as floods and droughts. Finally we need to address malnutrition, which is a huge problem and one that prevents children from reaching their full potential.

Ellen Kullman discussed the importance of a common understanding of food security. Agriculture differs between regions and countries so to create a shared framework of language around food security, DuPont worked with The Economist’s Intelligence Unit to create the Food Security Index. The hope is that by revealing differences between areas industry will be better able to target their work and make programmes more location appropriate, leading to more meaningful outcomes. Programmes such as the USAID’s Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Programme, with which DuPont work, which aims to facilitate hybrid seed distribution to smallholder farmers (over 35,000 to date). DuPont have also signed an MOU with USAID to extend this programmes beyond Ghana and Ethiopia, where it is currently in operation. We need an understanding of what’s happening on the ground to have positive impacts. This starts with understanding the different dimensions of food security and then designing projects for specific locations.

Ajay Vir Jakhar began by discussing some of the problems we face. Food security is like a jigsaw puzzle, he said, but most of the pieces don’t reside on the farm, they reside elsewhere. A lot of people (over 5 to 6 billion) by 2050 will live in cities and it is these people, rather than farmers, that influence food and agricultural policy. Urban populations want lower food prices and governments want to keep urban dwellers happy to be assured of their vote. Ajay gave this as one reason why governments in developed countries don’t even discuss the removal of subsidies, which would increase food prices, civil unrest and perhaps lower their numbers of supporters. But farmers want to (and should) influence policy, so how can this be facilitated?

Farmers also don’t think in terms of global food security but rather in terms of the food security of their household (localised thinking common to us all). If we help small-scale farmers become self-sufficient, we solve 60% of the food insecurity problem (because around 60% of the hungry are small-scale farmers). However, policy makers and others tend to think in terms of global issues despite farming being local. Localised solutions and help from the public and private sectors are needed. As Rajiv Shah agreed, the bulk of farmers may farm small plots of land but they have a critical role as engines of food productivity growth and social development. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Act Now, or Food Shortages Could Become a Problem for Us All, Gordon Conway, Huffington Post

Eighteen Million Farmers in 27 Countries Chose Biotech Crops in 2013, Global Plantings Increase by 5 Million Hectares, ISAA

Agricultural Technologies Could Increase Global Crop Yields as Much as 67 Percent and Cut Food Prices Nearly in Half by 2050, IFPRI

Invisible Math: Accounting for the Real Costs of Big Ag, Civil Eats

Hidden crop pest threat to poorer nations revealed, EurekAlert

Feeding the World – or feeding the Corporations?, The Ecologist

New GM corn gets controversial EU go-ahead, EU Business

Agriculture Increasingly Spells Opportunity in the Arid Gulf, The Wall Street Journal

Food wars, Cosmos

Uganda takes stock of new climate information service, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Voluntary GE Labels Won’t Work, Huffington Post

The family farming revolution, Al Ahram

Developing a Sustainable Nutrition Research Agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa, PAEPARD

Who’s winning the battle against child mortality?, Devex

Vertical farming explained: how cities could be food producers of the future, The Guardian

From WEF 2014: Water shortage as global risk–now what?, Global Food for Thought

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Davos 2013: new vision for agriculture is old news for farmers, The Guardian

Investors wary of going back to the land, Financial Times

USAID, DuPont work with Government of Ethiopia to improve food security, US Agency for International Development

Bill Gates: My plan to fix the world’s biggest problems, Wall Street Journal

Water-stressed Kenyans learn to share to keep the peace, AlertNet

Anti-hunger campaign ‘If’ launches with call for G8 to act, The Guardian

Climate Conversations – Chickpea genome map to benefit poor farmers, AlertNet

Agriculture ‘still the best bet’ in cutting African poverty levels, Africa Review

Support smallholder farmers to achieve food security, Government of Ghana

Resolving the food crisis: The need for decisive action, Aljazeera